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September 12, 2006

Big Kahuna 2006 Race Report

"Tell me baby, what's your story ... "
- Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Tell Me Baby"

Good gosh almighty – when I said I had a longer report coming, I wasn’t messing around. Brevity isn’t exactly a talent of mine.

This race report weighs in at more than 2100 words, so grab yourself a cup of coffee, sit back and get comfortable, and make sure your boss won’t come around for the next 15 minutes or so. Then check back - I'll still be here.

(… Waiting …)

OK, are you ready? Here’s my story from the 2006 Big Kahuna Triathlon. Considering the length of this post, I’m skipping the pre-race junk, and taking you directly to the first leg of the race.

Swim – 1.2 miles

Predicted time: 38 minutes
Actual time: 29:40. Um … what?

Honestly, I have no idea how this happened. During this portion of the race, I was primarily focused on three things: 1) staying relaxed, 2) maintaining a bilateral breathing pattern, and 3) drafting whenever possible.

If you have kids, you probably know The Foot Book by Dr Seuss. During the swim, I kept thinking of lines from that book while drifting from one set of feet to another: Big feet. Skinny feet. Slow feet. Quick feet. His feet. Her feet. Fuzzy fur feet. How many, many, feet I met (and drafted). Then before I knew it I was touching the sand and running onto the beach.

Sometimes, as a writer, I wish I could combine mathematics and English together, because there are occasions when words don’t properly emphasize a thought as strongly as I’d like. For instance, to say that I was shocked to see this split time is a vast understatement. “Stunned” doesn’t even do my feelings justice. But if we could do something like (stunned x shocked) to the 4th power, that would be closer to what I thought when I emerged from the water and looked at my watch.

In fact, I was so surprised, my first reaction was to look back over my shoulder at the swim course. Had I skipped a buoy somewhere out there? Did I cut the course short somehow? I could barely contain my disbelief, which persisted throughout the race – but in a good way, as you’ll see.

(Side note: it’s now 24 hours after the race, and I figure I must have worked pretty hard on that swim – because my pectoral muscles have been twitching the entire time I’ve been typing. People don’t realize just how much I suffer for this blog sometimes.)

Transition Area 1

Predicted time: 7 minutes
Actual time: 9 minutes

This is my Achilles heel in every triathlon - I’m completely baffled as to how to make transitions go any faster. I try all kinds of little tricks, and I really move as fast as I can through the process. Do you think maybe if I didn’t stop to do calisthenics or trim my toenails or use Q-tip swabs to clean my ears, that might help?

Meanwhile, back at the race …

Bike – 56 miles

Predicted speed: 20.5 mph (realistic), 21.0 mph (optimistic)
Actual speed: 21.0 mph. 2 hrs, 35 minutes. Boo-ya.

The bike segment is always my favorite portion of a triathlon. There’s the thrill of high speeds, the synergy of man and machine, and the freedom of cruising on scenic open roads.

But in my case, there’s also this: I love passing expensive bikes.

I mean to say, I LOVE it. It would be love squared, if I could use my mathglish idea. And as I hammered down the road, I passed just about every brand of swanky high-end bike you can think of on my old-school Green Machine.

One in particular stood out, only because of a conversation I had with my son the day before at the expo, as a guy unloaded his bike from an SUV:

Me: Whoa.

Him: What?

Me: Oh, nothing. I’m just looking at that guy’s bike. It probably costs about $5000.

Him: Wow. That’s a lot. Is he fast?

Me: I don't know. We'll find out tomorrow.

So I easily recognized the guy when I first passed him. We actually yo-yoed for about 10 miles, with a predictable pattern: him coasting past me on the downhills, me gaining back a bit of ground back on the flats, then me pulling away on the uphills.

The pattern told me two things: Him – nicer bike. Me – stronger legs. I liked my odds as the bike segment wore on. Sure enough, beyond the 35 mile mark, I never saw him again.

Since I started in the fourth wave, I spent the entire bike segment reeling in people who had started up to 21 minutes earlier. You could say I was moving through the field.

Here are some things that stood out from all that passing:

* I passed bikes with thick four-spoked wheels, and bikes with solid back wheels that sound like wood when they’re rolling. Those always sound strange to me.

* I passed a lot of people with wattage/power meters, many of whom seemed preoccupied with adjusting it during the ride. What exactly is the point of these things again? I thought GPS systems were complicated. I’ve just included wattage meters on the list of gadgets I definitely don’t need.

* I passed tri-specialty bikes, ultra light bikes, and bikes without a seatpost. One bike, two bikes, red bikes, blue bikes. How many, many bikes I passed.

* The only specialized piece of equipment I saw but didn’t pass was a few guys wearing those pointy time-trial helmets. I’d love to pass one of those guys someday.

* In all, I must have passed 100 people on the bike phase. I also counted on my fingers the number of people who passed me – and I never had to start on my toes.

* I didn’t get passed by anyone with hairy legs. I was relieved, or else I’d have to reevaluate my rationale for the whole leg-shaving thing. I justify it with racing triathlons – but is it possible that I just enjoy having smooth legs? (Wait, am I thinking out loud again? Sorry … let’s move on.)

As far as my speed goal, this segment went exactly as I hoped. My average at the turnaround point was 20.7 mph, and nearing the 50-mile mark I was averaging 21.2 mph. At that point, I thought to myself, “Wow – this is happening. I’m going to average 21 mph. Very cool.”

Then I started having conflicting conversations in my head. In one, I wanted to take advantage of how strong my legs felt, and gain as many minutes as possible heading into the run. In another, I was concerned that I might be overreaching, and my legs might blow up as soon as my feet hit the ground.

I took the conservative route, and basically cruised it in from that point, giving my legs a bit of a rest heading into T2.

And through the entire bike segment, one pervasive thought kept bouncing around in my head: did I really just finish a 30-minute swim segment? To this point, the day was unfolding quite nicely.

Transition Area 2

Predicted time: 2-3 minutes
Actual time: 3 minutes

I got a rub down from a volunteer, flipped open my laptop and sent out some e-mails, and borrowed a cell phone to order a pizza delivered to the finish line. Whatever.

Run – 13.1 miles

Predicted time: 1:30 (optimistic), 1:35 (realistic)
Actual time: 1:35

Two things stand out about the first few miles:

1) Right off the bat, my legs felt awesome. I had done brick workouts in training that felt much harder on my quads. It was almost like I hadn’t just climbed off the bike. However ...

2) I had no idea how fast I was going. I either missed the mile markers, or they weren’t there. So I might have felt good because I was running slower than usual. (Looking back now, considering the finishing time, I was probably doing 7-minute miles here, but who really knows.) Regardless, I was going purely by heart rate, maintaining an aerobic effort level the whole way.

Oh, yeah, one other thing…

3) I was passing a TON of people.

At this point, I knew sub-five hours would be a relative cakewalk. I can’t describe what an awesome feeling this was. Like awesome squared. Or cool cubed. You get the idea.

Again, I kept thinking back to that (for me) incredible swim time, which turned out to set the tone for the race.

Think of it this way: imagine you had a goal time you hoped to accomplish, and knew things would be tight. Then right off the bat, the race gives you an eight-minute head start that’s perfectly legal (come to think of it, this is exactly what happens at the Dipsea Race each year. No wonder all the old people love it.). How much more relaxed would you be for the remainder of the race? That’s how I felt during the last 10 miles of the run.

The middle miles to and from the turnaround point were on trails, which were very scenic, but became tough on my legs, and I felt my cruising speed begin to fall off somewhat. This is also where I developed my only real problem, in that my stomach was cramping a bit and I couldn’t really tolerate any more fluid or gels. Despite that, I was still passing a lot of people, and I was right on target to finish the race under 4:50.

I continued in that hybrid relaxed/painful manner for almost the entire run, until the final two miles when my stomach started hurting a lot more. Again, the mile markers were inconsistent here, so I never got reliable splits, but I think I was doing something like 7:30-7:45 miles.

Then during mile 13, the seemingly unthinkable happened: I got passed by two runners. Luckily, they were runners that I had passed a few miles back, and neither one was in my age group. Because after the overall great vibes I had been feeling all day, I really didn’t want to go into battle mode at that point – I was just looking for the finish.

The final half-mile of the course is along the beach, and it happened to be high tide around the time when I arrived. Runners had two options: either run through the deep sand (excruciatingly slow), or go along the shoreline (sloped surface, and ankle-to-shin deep waves at times). It’s really a great way to finish a triathlon - especially one with a Hawaiian theme - but it’s terrible if you’re trying to stay on pace to break a goal time.

In all likelihood, I lost my sub-4:50 time during miles 12 and 13, before the last half-mile along the beach effectively slammed the door on that hope. But after crossing the line in 4:51, I had absolutely no worries.

I had a great race. Life was good.

Finish Area

The finish line is right in front of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, perhaps the most iconic beach location in America. After grabbing my food basket, I sat with many other competitors at the open-air stage featuring Hawaiian music and hula dancers. The sun had just burned through the fog, and it was a beautiful day to be a triathlete in California.

(I know this is getting way too long. We’re almost done. I’ve got just two more stories…)

Just when I thought the day couldn’t get any better, I looked at the bottom of my food basket, and found a coupon from Senor Ted’s, good for a free burrito for all triathletes. My stomach had settled down by that point, so I took them up on their offer – and it was one of the best burritos I’ve ever tasted.

Let me state clearly for the record: if you give me a delicious free burrito after a triathlon, you’ve got a customer for life. I’ll visit you every time I’m in town. I’ll promote you to all my local friends. I’ll even sing your praises on my blog.

(So next time you’re in Santa Cruz, visit Senor Ted’s at the Boardwalk!! A triathlete-friendly business!! Best burritos in town!! And tell them Donald sent you!)

Finally … when I was filling up my car at the gas station before driving home, I heard the distinctive “ahem” sound of a guy clearing his throat, staring at me. Apparently I had been singing out loud, and didn’t realize it. The song was “Tell Me Baby” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, as I recall. It’s quite possible I might have been dancing, also.

All I remember is that I felt happy, to the point that I became oblivious to the world around me. This guy’s staredown would normally have caused me a little embarrassment, but under the circumstances, it didn’t bother me in the least.

That’s what a great race can do for you. And Sunday was just that kind of day.


olga 9/12/06, 9:46 AM  

Jeez, Donald, I want to move south and train with you. I want to learn to swim and to beat my fear of bike and do tri's. I don't care how good you are an athlete - you are a fantastic writer!
OK, you are a pretty damn good athlete too... And there is not question you're still smiling, I can see things, you know:)
Passing people with expensive gadgetes (or looking very fit from my not-very-runner-looking point of view and being a guy on top of it) is one of those mathinglish feelings you describe. I had it while doing my first 100M - you know, guys laughing at me as I walk every hill on the first 10M loop and crying as I walk pass them on the last 2 loops...
Anyhow, your race...deserves to have gone the way it did because of the way you train for it. Not only putting hard workouts, but smart ones, thought about ones, when all the =/- decided, when it's almost scientific yet agrees with your body, and your mind is quite serious too.
So bask in the rays of your victory. And let me know how to train for one.

Thomas 9/12/06, 10:18 AM  

Are you really telling the truth? About the smooth legs, I mean. My wife insists that men can't wax their legs, the pain would be too much for them to bear.

Robb 9/12/06, 10:49 AM  

Oh...happy thoughts! What a great day to be Donald. You were moving...I think I'll start shaving my legs. How do you do that? Wax or razor? Aren't you of italian stock? You're probably an otherwise real hairy dude.

olga 9/12/06, 11:39 AM  

Yeah, about THAT...Do you say I have a head-start on becoming a tri-athlete as I already shave? You know, besides the fact that I don't swim and am petrified of biking in a corwd on downhill?

Sue 9/12/06, 12:23 PM  

What a G R E A T write-up - I can feel your happiness coming through --- very well done, especially on the swim, oh, and the bike, oh, and the run! Just goes to show, no matter how expensive the equipment, it's all about the training....

backofpack 9/12/06, 4:38 PM  

Donald, this is one sweet race report! I loved reading it and was practically bouncing up and down in my chair in excitement. Olga is right - you are an awesome writer.

So are you going to give in to the mistress, forsake running and become a full time tri-guy?

And about the legs - how often? All winter too?

Annette 9/12/06, 5:00 PM  

I love it! It had to be a great race to leave you happy enough to be obliviously singing at the gas station. (OK, so you know that dude had you pegged as some kind of freak!) :)

Loved the Dr. Seuss references. I guess classifying feet can really help you de"feet" the competition. :)

Enjoyed your report - I can tell it was an awesome experience for you - more than you could express.

Fe-lady 9/12/06, 5:56 PM  

Wow you blew the field away. I liked many things about this story. Now I will find myself reciting the "Foot Book" during my swim on Sat. from Alcatraz. If I get into the rhythm you did, maybe my time will be great too!
You realized that it's the motor and not the machine (to a certain extent) when riding a bike. And you referenced the Dipsea race, which I LOVE and hopefully will be back to do someday again if I can get in!
Congrats again on your fantastic race! UNDER five hours deserves a crazy dance...or two!

Paul 9/12/06, 9:35 PM  

That's awesome that you rocked the bike course on the green machine! I admit I'd be bummed if I was passed by that!
good work!

Sarah 9/13/06, 7:34 AM  

Wow..what a magical day! You smoked that course. Congrats! ...And I enjoyed every word of your report. : )

stronger 9/13/06, 7:40 AM  

Never under estimate the importance of toe nails and a q-tip. Fantastic times out there...well, minus T1. You disguise your tri talent well with your running habit.

Kim 9/13/06, 9:00 AM  

Sounds like fun. Almost makes me want to do one. Almost. Then maybe I'd have something exciting to write about on my blog again. :)
Great job. Great time. Congrats.

(Side note - waxing is the way to go...it hurts like hell the first time but then you're good to go.... :) )

Deene 9/13/06, 10:14 AM  

what a great day for you! WOOHOO!
Tell Me Baby has a happy beat - you can't help but dance to it.

Darrell 9/13/06, 5:16 PM  

All little singing and dancing was definitely in order. If he only knew the day you'd had, he'd have been singing along, besides is WAS the RHCP's, you couldn't really help yourself. Congrats on a well executed race.

Loved the report. My boss never came by once!

robtherunner 9/13/06, 7:56 PM  

Thanks for the warning on the long report as I had to pass it up yesterday, but I am glad I waited until I could be comfortable and read all the way through. Great report and I am glad the race went so well. Once I get this running thing figured out a bit better I have my eye on an IM in the future. I mean way in the future.

Mike 9/13/06, 11:14 PM  

You are proof positive of the problem we triathletes have when a runner learns how to bike and swim *very well* and has the audacity to invade our turf! F&#%!

Seriously- excellent race report and way to rock that green machine!!

Running Chick 9/14/06, 10:10 AM  

i would have read another 2100 words about your race, had you written them.

you. are. amazing.

Cliff 9/14/06, 10:22 AM  


Remind me never be in the same race as you. I will feel awful getting pass by Green Machine :P. Then again, in my last HIM, only in the last mile or so, some guy with a Cerevlo passed me. At first i was complaining. Then I realize it took him that long to get up to me with my road bike that is way too big for my size. No complain :)

Do u sing on the bike? I do that to keep my HR down.

rick 9/14/06, 11:06 AM  

Time shaved off the clock by having smoother shaved legs, .000001 seconds. Feeling like Lance, priceless.

Yeah that beach finish is kind of a pain, especially if you're not prepared for it. Last year, my first time, I thought we finished by the hotel just like in the Sentinel race and I had to get it back together just for the last 100 yards. Great for the spectators though, they got to sit in the sand and watch us come in.

Julie B 9/14/06, 12:00 PM  

What a fun race report to read and what an awesome race you had. I felt like I was coming along with you for the ride! Passing all of those people must have been some kind of high! Thanks for sharing :)

jeff 10/8/06, 2:43 PM  

almost a month late, but at least i caught it! donald...fantastic race. just wasn't in the cards for me this year, but i'd love to watch you race or race with you at some point. i love your optimism, your fitness and your wit. great job.

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